Fears grow the Black Death could spread into China from Mongolia

Fears grow that the Black Death could spread into China as neighboring Mongolia reports third bubonic plague death

  • Mongolia, bordered by China, reported its third victim died from bubonic plague
  • A 38-year-old man died on Monday after eating marmot meat, the officials said
  • Comes as most provinces across the country are declared at risk of the disease
  • Fears grow that the crisis could spread into China from the neighbouring nation
  • Two citizens died of the Black Death in China’s Inner Mongolia region in August

Fears have arisen that bubonic plague could spread into China after its bordering country Mongolia reports its third victim who died of the Black Death this year.

A 38-year-old man had died from the plague on Monday in Mongolia’s western Zavkhan province after eating marmot meat last month, said the local authorities.

It comes as China’s Inner Mongolia region, near the Chinese border with Mongolia, has recorded two deaths caused by the plague in August, prompting the authorities to impose partial lockdowns and quarantine residents.

Fears have arisen that bubonic plague could spread into China after its bordering country Mongolia reports its third victim who died of the Black Death this year. This picture taken on September 4 shows a man walking with the Chinese national flag in a park in Wuhan

Mongolian authorities have also declared at least 17 out of all 21 provinces in the country are at risk of bubonic plague, raising fears that the disease could spread into neighbouring China. People wearing face masks visit the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, Hubei on September 3

Mongolian authorities have also declared at least 17 out of all 21 provinces in the country are at risk of bubonic plague, raising fears that the disease could spread into neighbouring China.

Bubonic plague, known as the ‘Black Death’ in the Middle Ages, is one of the most devastating diseases in history, having killed around 100million people in the 14th century.

The Mongolian man was infected with the plague after consuming marmot meat in Khuvsgul province in northern Mongolia last month, reported Chinese state media Xinhua, citing Mongolian provincial department of zoonotic diseases.

A total of 25 people who had close contact with the patient have tested negative for the disease, the officials said.

The country first reported a death caused by the bubonic plague in July, a 15-year-old boy from the western Govi-Altai province.

Last month, a 42-year-old man died of the bubonic plague in Khovd, west Mongolia.

So far, the country bordered by China and Russia has found 18 suspected cases of the disease this year.

Meanwhile, China has reported two deaths caused by the plague since January.

On August 6, the Baotou city health commission confirmed a resident died of a different form of the disease four days earlier.

The city of Baotou, in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said the victim had contracted the enteric plague.

A second victim died from multiple organ failure in a case of the bubonic plague, the Bayan Nur health commission of Inner Mongolia said on the following day.

The city of Baotou, in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said the victim had contracted the enteric plague. The file picture shows a view of the buildings in Baotou

China’s Inner Mongolia region has seen two deaths, one reported in Baotou and the other in Bayan Nur from the plague since August as officials have issued level-three epidemic warnings

Baotou officials ordered the city to enter a precautionary warning period, which is set to last until the end of the year.

The government admitted that the city was facing a potential epidemic of plague among humans.

The bubonic plague, one of the four forms of the disease, is one of the most devastating diseases in history.

The enteric plague, also known as the pharyngeal plague, attacks a person’s digestive system and can arise as a result of exposure to infectious aerosols or by ingestion of infected meat.

The other forms of the disease are the pneumonic plague, a severe lung infection, and the septicemic plague, which affects a person’s blood systems.

China has largely eradicated the plague, but occasional cases are still reported.

The last major known outbreak of the disease was in 2009 when several people died in the town of Ziketan in Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau.

However, British health experts have said that no evidence shows bubonic plague can be passed from one person to another, therefore it is unlikely to trigger another health crisis.

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: ‘Bubonic plague is a thoroughly unpleasant disease and this case will be of concern locally within Inner Mongolia. 

‘However, it is not going to become a global threat like we have seen with COVID-19. Bubonic plague is transmitted via the bite of infected fleas, and human to human transmission is very rare.’

Prof David Mabey, Professor of Communicable Diseases from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, called the case in China ‘not worrying at all’.

He said: ‘[The disease] is transmitted from rodents to human by flea bites. There were a number of cases recently in Madagascar where it was suspected there might have been human to human transmission due to so called pneumonic plague, when the infection spreads via the blood stream to the lungs, but this was never proven.’

Prof Christl Donnelly, Professor of Applied Statistics, University of Oxford and Professor of Statistical Epidemiology, Imperial College London, said commonly available antibiotics were effective at treating plague. 

‘Sometimes antibiotics are given preventatively to close contacts of cases. Most cases of plague in the last 30 years have been recorded in Africa. However, small numbers of plague cases occur annually in the United States, usually in rural areas of western states,’ Prof Donnelly said.

What is the bubonic plague? 

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is carried by fleas and transmitted between animals.

The bubonic plague – the most common form – is caused by the bite of an infected flea and can spread through contact with infectious bodily fluids or contaminated materials. 

Patients may show signs of fever and nausea and at an advanced stage may develop open sores filled with pus.  

It devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, most notably in the Black Death of the 1340s which killed a third or more of the continent’s population. 

After the Black Death plague became a common phenomenon in Europe, with outbreaks recurring regularly until the 18th century. 

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is carried by fleas and transmitted between animals. The picture above is a 3D illustration of the bacterium

When the Great Plague of 1665 hit, a fifth of people in London died, with victims shut in their homes and red crosses painted on the door. 

Bubonic plague has almost completely vanished from the rich world, with 90 per cent of all cases now found in Africa. 

It is now treatable with antibiotics, as long as they are administered quickly. 

Still, there have been a few non-fatal cases in the U.S., with an average of seven reported a year, according to disease control bosses. 

From 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths, says the World Health Organisation. 

Some plague vaccines have been developed, but none are available to the general public. 

The WHO does not recommend vaccination except for high-risk groups such as health care workers.  

Without antibiotics, the bubonic strain can spread to the lungs – where it becomes the more virulent pneumonic form.  

Pneumonic plague, which can kill within 24 hours, can then be passed on through coughing, sneezing or spitting.  

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